Robbie Short, Senior Photographer

YHack, Yale’s largest annual hackathon, has switched to an online format called “YHack V. 2020” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the past, YHack has hosted over 800 students from colleges across the United States and abroad who convene at Yale over the course of a weekend in teams of two to four and create technologies addressing real-world problems. According to the YHack website, the event was extended from a weekend to a full week and will take place virtually from Nov. 7 to 14, and over 600 participants have already registered.

Co-directors of the event Jau Tung Chan ’21, Justin Du ’23 and Elizabeth Zietz ’22 told the News that they hope “these changes will extend opportunities for hackers to get help from world-class mentors and build more long-lasting solutions that will create a tangible difference.”

“We hope new participants will find a community at YHack, whether through working with their team, meeting new friends, or engaging with experts at the many events YHack offers (including fireside chats, panel discussions, sponsored workshops),” Chan, Du and Zietz wrote to the News in an email on behalf of YHack. “Hacking at YHack is a communal experience, and innovation through teamwork has always been celebrated.”

Participants work during the event to design new technology-based projects. Usually, the event is hosted at Payne Whitney Gymnasium, but this year, participants are being added to a Slack channel prior to the event. In this channel, the participants will introduce themselves and pick teams by approaching each other virtually via messages and comments.

Sebastian Tsai ’22, who will be participating in YHack for the first time this year, described what he has seen so far as a “nice community.” He told the News that the opportunities to meet and work with other students drew him to apply this year.

“I think that’d be a really cool opportunity to just get out of the Yale bubble and try something new with some new people, too,” Tsai said.

Prizes will be awarded to the most innovative project developed during the week. Teams will record a video demo of their project and submit it to a group of preselected judges composed of industry professionals, grad students and Yale faculty for scoring. Prizes in past years have included vacation packages that cover up to $1,000, smart light bulbs and an Oculus Go.

This year’s event also features workshops and speakers from sponsors such as Citadel Securities, Facebook and FedEx.

Michelle Li ’23 participated in the event last year, but will not be doing so this year while she takes a leave of absence. She had joined the event to “explore creative coding applications” and recalls there being food, coffee and participants sleeping in empty rooms at Payne Whitney in order to recharge and continue coding the next day.

Li told the News that her experience with YHack was both intense and fun.

This year, all of the schools in the Ivy League, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rhode Island School of Design, Indian Institutes of Technology, University of Waterloo and more schools are expected to participate in YHack V. 2020.

YHack was founded in 2013.


Ángela Pérez | angela.perez@yale.edu